In a relatively short space of time Thunderbolt, the hardware interface technology invented by Intel and introduced in 2011, is fast becoming the protocol of choice for audio interface connectivity.
Often incorrectly attributed as an Apple invention, largely because of their widespread adoption of it across their Mac range, Thunderbolt promises fast speeds and flexible connectivity. Whilst Mac users have been enjoying the benefits of Thunderbolt for several years, many WIndows PC owners have been frustrated by the lack of Thunderbolt support for Windows. However, their frustration has often been misdirected at the audio interface manufacturers when the problem lies with Windows PC manufacturers not adopting a single Thunderbolt standard. This means it is difficult for audio interface manufacturers to be able to guarantee compatibility with the multiplicity of Windows computers on the market.
If one also adds the fact that many Mac audio professionals are hanging onto their older Mac Pro 'cheese grater' style machines, which do not have Thunderbolt, then for Thunderbolt to gain as much ground as it has in the audio interface market is impressive.
Despite these teething problems, in our recent survey of over 1700 Pro Tools users, Thunderbolt found itself just 1% away from first place beaten only by the ubiquitous USB protocol, which was first introduced in 1996, some 20 years ago.
What Kind Of Audio Interface Do You Use For Pro Tools? Results
What About DigiLink?
In 4th place after USB, Thunderbolt and FireWire (IEEE 1394), is Digilink. Digilink is a proprietary protocol created by Digidesign for connection of HD and HDX equipped interfaces. Whilst some may assume that Digilink use is in decline there have been a number of new Digilink equipped interfaces introduced by manufacturers such as Focusrite, Apogee, Waves and DAD. With Avid's decision to offer Pro Tools owners a licence to use Pro Tools HD with a third party DigiLink interface (given the moniker 'DigiTax' in the Pro Tools Expert office) we think that the DigiLink protocol still has life in it and may well indeed enjoy a renaissance.
In closing, whilst there is no clear leader in the audio interface protocol market. The speedy adoption of Thunderbolt shows that despite the challenges outlined above, Thunderbolt use is growing quickly and is giving more established technologies a run for their money.
Are you a Thunderbolt audio interface owner enjoying the benefits of this relatively new standard, or are you a frustrated Windows PC owner hoping to join the growing number of audio professionals enjoying the benefits of Thunderbolt? Or perhaps you are a Windows PC owner who is using a Thunderbolt audio interface? If so let us know which interface is working for you.